The arms and legs may offer the first sign of the presence of peripheral vascular disease (PVD), a narrowing of the blood vessels that can lead to serious health complications.
PVD commonly involves the buildup of plaque in the peripheral arteries, i.e. those outside your heart. As the arteries become blocked, they are less able to transport nourishing blood to the arms, legs and other body parts. PVD sometimes runs its course silently until the blood vessels become so clogged that treatment is required to avoid permanent damage to the surrounding tissues and limbs.
PVD commonly occurs in the legs. Sufferers often complain of a cramping pain (called claudication) when they walk. This is a message from your muscles that they’re not getting enough nutrients to do their job properly.
“In addition to claudication, PVD sufferers may also experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs; foot pain that wakes the patient from sleep; pale, red, or blue skin discoloration of the extremities; changes in skin temperature; wounds that won’t heal or gangrene; buttock pain; impotence; and loss of leg hair,” said Dr. Sara M. Edeiken, a vascular surgeon at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital.
Doctors can use several diagnostic tests to determine if you are suffering from PVD:
• The ankle-brachial index is a simple, noninvasive test that compares blood pressure in your ankle and your arm.
• Doppler ultrasound can help determine if a specific artery is clogged by providing an image of the blood flow inside the vessel using sound waves.
• Pulse volume recordings use blood pressure cuffs to measure blood pressure in the limb and to calculate blood volume changes in the legs using a recording device that displays the results as a waveform.
• An angiogram can provide a blueprint of any narrowing or blockage present. During this procedure, a doctor injects dye into an artery to identify blockages using a special kind of X-ray.
Treating the Condition
If you are diagnosed with PVD, your doctor will consider a variety of treatments. Sometimes he or she may combine therapies to achieve the best results possible. This may include lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check, getting more exercise and scheduling regular checkups, along with
medications and surgery.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, can reduce the plaque that forms in the arteries. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help lower your blood pressure and improve circulation. He or she may also direct a clot-busting drug directly into a blood vessel if it is blocked by a clot.
Your doctor may choose to perform angioplasty. During this procedure, he or she inserts a tiny balloon into the blood vessel and then inflates the balloon to open the clogged area. Sometimes, the doctor will permanently place a tiny metal cylinder or “stent” in the vessel to help keep it open.
Another therapy, called atherectomy, involves inserting a special device on the end of a catheter directly into the vessel to shave down the hard plaque.
“In some cases, patients may need bypass surgery to build detours around the blocked and damaged vessels so the blood can continue to reach and nourish various parts of the body,” Edeiken said.
There is no one-size-fits-all procedure to improve symptoms. At Houston Methodist Baytown, our multidisciplinary teams offer a range of procedures to provide the best possible therapy for a patient.
If you are experiencing symptoms of peripheral vascular disease, talk to your primary care doctor or schedule an appointment with a vascular surgeon at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital for an evaluation. Visit houstonmethodist.org/baytown or call 832-556-6650.